Hundreds Feared Dead in El Salvador Earthquake

January 15, 2001

An Earthquake centered 60 miles off the coast of El Salvador struck Central America Saturday morning, killing several hundred persons and causing heavy damage to buildings and infrastructure in the region. At least 340 people have lost their lives. Many more are injured and estimates of persons missing or unaccounted for range between 1,200 and over 5,000.

The heaviest losses occurred in the Las Calinas suburb of the Capital San Salvador where a landslide caused by the quake engulfed over 400 homes. Rescuers have so far recovered 127 bodies, and, despite numerous strong aftershocks are continuing their search. One fortunate victim was found alive after being trapped in his buried home for more than 30 hours.

The quake, which registered between7.6 and 7.9 on the Richter scale, caused damage throughout the country, and in neighboring Nicaragua, Guatemala and as far away as Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica. Blocked roads, downed power lines and the lack of heavy equipment is hampering rescue efforts outside San Salvador, and the full extent of the quake’s destruction cannot as yet be estimated.

President Francisco Flores declared a state of emergency, and asked people to remain calm. The U.S. has promised emergency medical and other supplies, but deliveries can’t begin until workers are able to reopen El Salvador’s international airport, which was extensively damaged by the quake.

El Salvador’s last major earthquake in 1986 killed over 1,500 people and caused extensive damage, which was mostly confined to the capital. Reports indicate that this one has caused destruction over a much wider area.

Experts note that Central America is particularly prone to earthquakes, mudslides, floods and hurricanes- Over 9000 people died when hurricane Mitch struck the country in 1998. El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America, and deforestation caused by intensive farming practices, coupled with overcrowded conditions and poorly constructed dwellings, significantly increase the loss of life and property damage caused by these catastrophes.

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